The Nottingham Student Housing Co-operative are aiming to change how we see student housing, and how students experience it.
There is a much-mocked photo, somewhere, of a pair of local councillors gurning miserably at the thought that more students might move into their patch. The message was clear, students are not welcome here. They’re lazy, they’re feckless and they’re noisy. As a student I took this slightly personally, I am not lazy, I am not feckless and I am only occasionally noisy. Usually during karaoke at the White Lion.
However, the reality is that student housing is not very good. The houses are “investments” for people who don’t live in Beeston and don’t care to put any money into their investment. They become rundown, decrepit and the students lose any pride in them. It is a vicious, self-defeating cycle and it’s one that myself and some others decided to change.
The Nottingham Student Housing Co-operative has three simple goals: student housing that is accountable to the tenants and the community, that is cheaper, and that does not leave its residents with horror stories. This is our pitch to our members but also to the people of Beeston. We want to change how you see students and how you see student housing.
Our rent both pays our mortgage and, more importantly, generates a surplus that allows us to invest back into the house and community
I have lived, as a student, in Beeston for 5 years now. I write for The Beestonian and I feel like part of the community and this is part of my effort to return the favour. We are currently looking for a first property in the area and that means being transparent with you, the good citizens of Beestonia.
Our model is simple, we obtained investment from other co-operatives, including the retail shops, and used it to buy a house. Students rent it, renovate it and pay for it. Our rent both pays our mortgage and, more importantly, generates a surplus that allows us to invest back into the house and community.
Students also have democratic control. They get to vote on the direction the co-operative takes and how that money is spent. They get to take ownership of their house in a way that makes them proactive, responsible members of the community.
Our current plan, should the building be big enough, is to make ourselves not just a home for students but a community hub. Other co-operatives have engaged in local activism, offering food kitchens, community meals and vegan cooking classes and we want to be part of that tradition.
This model has worked across the USA and Australia and we want to replicate this success. There are currently 150 beds in housing co-operatives, within 5 years we want to make that 10,000.
We know that when a lot of people think students they think of Lenton and we want to make sure that doesn’t happen to Beeston. We are going to be a proactive part of this town and we will do it because we love Beeston.
If you weren’t already aware, the UK has been in the grip of a housing crisis for some time. Not enough properties are available for people to live in, new homes not being built quickly enough, and the dream of home ownership is out of the financial reach of vast swathes of the population.
The various political, economic and social forces which drive and influence demand and supply means that it is usually more profitable for developers to build brand new homes on greenbelt land. The types of new housing being built varies, but unsurprisingly, dwellings such as 5 bedroomed executive homes normally generate the highest returns for the builders. This is not ideal for those wanting to get on the housing ladder.
A new development with a difference could soon be with us, if a proposal to build on derelict land at the Barton’s site gets the go-ahead. If everything is approved, 250 homes will be built on the fairly extensive site. The good news for those who are wanting to get onto the property ladder is that 54 of them will be 1 bedroomed flats/maisonettes, and 122 of them will be 2 bedroomed flats.
Another unusual aspect to the scheme is that the buildings themselves will be constructed according to aesthetic design principles. Much of the new estate homes that have been built over the last few years have faced much criticism for their utilitarian uniformity and less than imaginative design, which personally I think is unwarranted. A home is a home, and anyway, attitudes to architecture are fluid. An 80’s ‘Lego estate’ may well be as revered as a Victorian terrace in years to come. Getting back to the point, some of the artist’s impressions are very different to average new-builds, and would be a very welcome addition to the mixture of housing in the area.
A few nay-sayers have cited some concerns – one of them being the extra traffic the development would bring. It is highly unlikely that every one of the new homes would contain a car owner, and even if it did, the proximity of the site to the tram and bus stops would make life easy for anyone commuting to the University, QMC, city or in the other direction to Long Eaton and Derby. Lots more people work at home now, so it would hardly seem likely that dozens of cars will be creating queues of traffic along the High Road or Queens Road.
Others have pointed out that there would be added pressure on already well-subscribed primary schools in the area. For starters, less than 200 of the new homes have two or more bedrooms. 122 of them will be 2 bedroomed flats, leaving fewer than 80 homes with 3 or more bedrooms.
Of those who move into the properties with 2 or more bedrooms, I think it is fair to estimate that well under half will have children of school age. Take out the ones who aren’t at primary school, and it would be hard to imagine more than an extra 2 or 3 children in each primary school year.
As well as contributing to the housing ‘effort’, the scheme would also see substantial extra council tax revenue being generated. At a time when the money given to local authorities is ever-decreasing, an extra few hundred thousand pounds will be very welcome.
My biggest concern is that the site will lose some of the heritage magic, and the venue for some brilliant events. Over the last few years Bartons has been host to any number of superb performances. This has included comedy, music (of all genres), along with art installations, not to mention the markets and heritage open days. However, provision is being made for an events space, so fingers crossed that this is included.
If the scheme does get the go-ahead, it will be a couple of years at least before the site takes shape, although I’m tempted to start taking bets that it will be complete before anything worthwhile is built on the empty land opposite Tesco.